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Bosnian Computer Programmer is Abuzz about the Science of Beekeeping

Emir Memišević holding <em>Procerus gigas</em>
Emir Memišević holding Procerus gigas
beetle. Credit: Amir Memišević.

Growing up collecting scarab beetles, reading about butterflies and learning taxonomy, it’s no surprise that AAAS Member Emir Memišević ended up with a bug-related career—beekeeping. However, he’s not the stereotypical beekeeper many would imagine. Memišević is also a tech-savvy, computer programmer who’s devoted to revolutionizing the bee business.

Throughout his childhood, when Memišević wasn’t gathering bugs, he was coding on the computer. In university, he switched from studying biology to information technology and is currently an undergraduate student at the University Vitez located in Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Little did Memišević know, biology would reenter his life through a unique route—as a pastime to maintain a connection with his father following his own marriage. “I didn’t want for him to feel like I’m gone now,” he recalled. “I wanted to have something to connect us…I wanted to have something more, like a business.” With that in mind, Memišević began beekeeping with his father, who had been partaking in the hobby for the previous 30 years.

In 2005, Memišević and his father started a business producing royal jelly, which, according to Memišević, is “bee milk.” If fed royal jelly, a female bee larva will become the queen, the sole reproductive female within a honeybee colony. In humans, this nutritious product is claimed to have multiple health benefits, including antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Now, selling royal jelly is Memišević’s core business.

However, he soon realized that some of the beehives produced more jelly than others. Wanting to maximize efficiency and determine why this was happening, Memišević dove into the science of bees. He turned to his longtime mentor and friend, Suvad Lelo, who first sparked Memišević’s curiosity in biology as a child. Lelo suggested taking samples from each hive and analyzing them.

After mounting 900 bees onto glass slides, Memišević needed to determine the cubital index for each bee. Memišević likens this measurement to human limbs. “All humans have, for example, five fingers [per hand], two arms, two legs and so on. But, if we compare different people from different continents, we find that people in Africa have longer hands or legs when we compare them with Europeans. The same with bee wing venation…for different subspecies of bees, there is a different [cubital index] value.”

Emir Memišević and his bees
Emir Memišević and his bees.
Credit: Amir Memišević.

However, science requires repetition, which Memišević wasn’t keen on performing. “Because I’m a programmer…I don’t like repetitive work,” he laughed. “I realized, ‘okay, I can make a small software to do this much easier and faster.’” With this thought in mind in 2014, he took to his computer and began developing a program that analyzes close-up images of bee wings, measures the cubital index of each wing and then generates a graph to show the cubital index distribution of all samples. According to Memišević, his product is faster and less labor intensive than anything currently on the market, and when sold, would include the hand-held camera to capture bee wing images. Although an ongoing development, Memišević is excited to spread this software with beekeepers all over the world.

This isn’t Memišević’s only project combining programming and bees though. Since 2014, he has also been building a nectar flow project called Medobar, which has uses for both honey lovers and beekeepers.

For honey lovers, Medobar tracks the composition of plant nectars from which different honeys were produced. After tasting honey samples, customers can choose their preferred flavor profile and will be notified when their honey of choice is available.

On the beekeeper end, Memišević developed electronic units that measure beehive weight and surrounding temperature and humidity at various points throughout the day. By placing these underneath 100 beehives around Bosnia and Herzegovina, Memišević receives real-time indication of when and where there is enough nectar for bees to make honey. He explained, “This is connected with vegetation…if you have some plants that produce nectar [only] in April, [the bees’ honey production] will be finished in April. You need another plant to give nectar so bees can collect it [during other months].”

He hopes to expand his startup’s services into the U.S. market, not only to help honey lovers and beekeepers, but also to gain insights into the declining U.S. honeybee population. Since Medobar’s electronic units collect so much data, he figures they can help analyze bee activities and know when the colonies’ populations start decreasing.

Memišević personally believes that the biggest factor of the honeybee decline is agriculture techniques. “When you travel in the U.S., you will see huge land with one plant [type]. For bees, it is not a good environment. From that plant [type], they will have food for just 30 days. For the rest of the period, they don’t have any [food].” Other factors he thinks are causing this honeybee downfall are pesticides, Varroa mites and antibiotic usage in bees.

Emir Memišević
Emir Memišević using Medobar
electronics. Credit: Amir Memišević.

Furthermore, the technology behind Medobar led to Memišević’s travels to Nairobi, Kenya as a finalist in the U.S. Department of State and AAAS’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I Competition in 2015. He noted that this was one of the most important events in his life, but also the most stressful. “I don’t remember anything from the stage except my first sentence,” Memišević recalled.

Although he didn’t win the competition, Memišević firmly states that the recognition for his ideas and passion about bees and technology was more important than winning. Thanks to the competition, he has gained connections worldwide who are interested in his work. Additionally, he was gifted a AAAS Membership as a finalist and continues to be proud to support AAAS. He hopes to one day publish in Science.

In April, Memišević traveled to Bahrain to attend the 2019 GIST Tech-I final pitch competition as an alumnus. There, he gave this year’s finalists key advice. “Don’t worry, because the competition is just the beginning of [your] success.”

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